Sunday 26 January 2020

Rooney's Swiss dash can't prevent disastrous eviction

Wayne Rooney was in Switzerland to win a vital Champions League group game for Manchester United and then try a little shuttle diplomacy, in Nyon, where Uefa will hear his appeal against a three-match suspension at next summer's European Championship.

All across Europe powerful people are currently rushing between major cities to fight the crises of our age, but nobody expected them to be joined by the man the back pages invariably refer to as Roo, and his team-mates known as Wazza.

It was a seductive image: Rooney spirited away by limo across Switzerland, with out-riders, for a decisive oratorical showdown with one of Europe's great institutions.

But that was not his main business here in the arena where he scored for England against Switzerland in Euro 2012 qualifying. Pretty soon it was apparent that taking a point off Basel was more vexing than it looked on paper.

A sloppy clearance by David de Gea of a Xerdan Shaqiri cross fell to Marco Streller, who smashed it home, in the ninth minute, and familiar irritation took hold of the striker in the white No 10 shirt.

As United toiled on a rain-softened pitch, Rooney displayed the kind of frustration that landed him in trouble in Podgorica. Nothing eats him quite like the inadequacies of colleagues. He cannot abide mediocrity (especially his own, when it befalls him).

Nor he is ever willing to be roughed up by opponents. The first flashpoint came when Basel's Cabral took him out off the ball. Up went Rooney's arms and out came the tirade.

Over went the referee Bjorn Kuipers to calm him down. Mercifully, Rooney's mind then returned to the more pressing business hounding Basel's defence in search of an equaliser.

What a draining night for United. The horrible knee injury that drew a scream from Nemanja Vidic just before half-time expressed their agony. The Europa League is not their habitat. Beaten finalists only last May, United were now staring down the pipe of their first group stage exit for six years.

Is that why United's fans sang odes to Roy Keane? The Benfica in December 2005 came a month after Keane's ejection. It was hardly the right tune as United squared up to a long spell without Vidic and United emerged for the second half noticeably energised by dread of the Europa League. The horror! The horror!

The cause of all Rooney's dashing about in Switzerland was a fit of a temper on another foreign field.

Somewhere between Basel and Nyon he will have reflected on the counter-productive pointlessness of kicking Miodrag Dzudovic in the back of the legs as the Montenegro defender was running away from him.

Rooney will have had that thought already. The issue has haunted him since that red card was raised and he traipsed across the field in the 73rd minute of his country's final qualifying game.


Since that enjoyably volcanic night he has been cast as enfant terrible, martyr, victim of summary justice and humble supplicant to the men of Nyon, who will be asked to trim his suspension from three games to two.

But here in rainy Basel the day job was his priority. The last time United failed to advance beyond the group stage, in December 2005, Rooney was in the early months of a cycle that was to establish him and Cristiano Ronaldo as the foundation stones of three consecutive Premier League titles and the Champions League win against Chelsea in Moscow.

Europe is a special place for the Croxteth boy. His debut hat-trick against Fenerbache in September 2004 planted the magic in his mind. Seven years later, at 26, he was again the go-to saviour in an increas- ingly tense group stage finale. Avoidance of defeat would see United through to the second round, but offer no guarantee of avoiding Europe's other superpowers in the draw.

After the interval Rooney beat the offside trap, but curled his shot round Yann Sommer's left-hand post. But Basel were still busy at the other end, with Shaqiri a thorough menace.

There will be those who says Rooney's appeal was an unwelcome distraction for United, but it would be an extrapolation too far. To imagine him weighed down by thoughts of taking his seat alongside the English Football Association delegation and fighting for his rights next summer is fanciful.

In a game of this magnitude he is surely capable of fixing his mind on a single 90-minute passage of play without allowing politics to crowd his thoughts. More pertinent were United's struggles in midfield, the defensive paralysis that led to Streller's goal and the spirit and verve of Basel.

When Alex Ferguson hooked Ashley Young for Danny Welbeck on 64 minutes United were appealing not to Uefa, but the gods to spare them the ignominy of eviction so soon after Europe's silver medal was hung from their necks, against Barcelona at Wembley.

Chris Smalling drove over a cross that glanced off Rooney's head and into the crowd. It was one of those nights when time turns like a screw.

A young side's right to grow up steadily without outside pressure was under threat as Rooney and Nani probed and Basel fell back to defend their lead while Federico Macheda jogged on join to complete an attacking trident.

Macheda ran the ball straight into touch and Rooney threw back his head in disgust.

Then came the coup de grace: Basel's second goal, by Alex Frei, and the dark road to Nyon stretched ahead.

For a man who will probably need to be all sweetness and light today, this won't have done much to lighten his mood. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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